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How to Beat Distraction and Make the Most of Virtual Meetings (infographic)

August 31, 2018
By Jerrin Padre and Lee Morrison
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DR DIn an age of Wi-Fi, mobile hotspots, and portable devices, humans are more globally connected than ever before. As companies continue to expand across continents, telecommuting and working remotely have become workplace norms. In fact, a 2014 survey of 1,700 employees, reported that 79% of respondents worked “always” or “frequently” in dispersed teams.

However, behind every great advancement lurks a drawback. Cue the nemesis of the virtual revolution: the infamous
Dr. Distraction. 

Dr. Distraction is a master of disguise, colluding closely with other arch nemeses such as procrastination and multi-tasking. Together they expertly camouflage unproductive activities in a veil of attraction and urgency, making ineffective behaviors seem necessary in the moment. You may have experienced some of their trickery…

workings of dr d
 And, if you have experienced their trickery, then you've probably experienced the negative consequences, too.  Take a look at the following example.

Are You Abigail or James?

"I should have just blamed it on Words with Friends and moved on. Because that’s what I was playing when I was supposed to be paying attention to what Morgan was saying during the virtual meeting this morning,” Abigail confessed.

“What are you talking about?” James asked as the two co-workers settled over coffee in the company break room. “I didn’t notice anything.” He took a long drink from his cup. “Of course, I’m still trying to figure out that new project software they threw at us last week. I was knee deep in a tutuorial while Morgan was droning on. What happened?”

Abigail shrugged. “The virtual meetings we’ve been doing since the merger are WAY more convenient. But it’s so easy to get distracted when you’re not actually sitting in a room full of people with Morgan watching you every second. Anyway, I was on a winning streak and I just played a triple word score for 85 points. Can you believe it?”

“What was the word?” James asked, pulling his phone from his pocket and absently scrolling through his messages.

“James, that SO isn’t the point. Morgan totally embarrassed me by asking me what I’d suggest ‘to improve the process’.”  

James stared at her as Abigail sipped her coffee. “What process?”  

“Exactly.” Abigail set her cup down. “I had no clue what he was talking about. Couldn’t bluff my way out of it, either. I wasn’t paying attention, and he busted me. After break, I’m off to the learning department for training on how to listen so I can be a better virtual team player.” She put air quotes around the three words and made a face. "Can you believe it?"

“What?” James looked up from his phone and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Ab. Maybe I should go with you. I can’t keep my eyes off my phone for more than five minutes tops.” 

Abigail sighed and watched James thumb a text. Idly, she wondered how long the training session would take. She had a full queue of emails waiting for her and a half-finished presentation due tomorrow.

As the story of Abigail and James illustrates, distraction can undermine our credibility with fellow team members and cause us to miss important information. When you’re asked to be in a meeting or on a call, there’s a reason.  Your full attention and participation are needed. And that means beating Dr. Distraction before he strikes. 

Here are 10 Indispensable Strategies to Stay Focused in Virtual Meetings and Conference Calls

quiet please1.      Reduce environmental distractions
Move to a quiet room and plan ahead. Take action to silence any potential causes of background noise—your phone, kids, dog, lawnmower, etc. 

no devices2.      Minimize the machines
Use only what you need for the call or meeting. Turn off the TV, put away the tablet, and get rid of any other devices with the power to divert your attention.

close tabs3.      Close your tabs
Close any tabs or apps that don’t pertain to the meeting. We promise you can check Instagram later.

turn off wifi4.      Turn off Wi-Fi
Often, you can access the documents you need for a meeting (email, Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint slide, etc.) without internet connection. Download those documents before the meeting, then turn off your Wi-Fi to prevent further distraction.

be there5.      Resolve to be present
You have the power to devote your attention to the task at hand; do it. Take a minute to close your eyes, breathe, meditate, do jumping jacks, go to your happy place—anything you need to do to get re-grounded and focused.

6.      rapportEstablish rapport
At the beginning of the call or meeting, introduce yourself and greet co-attendees. Banter is great as long as you’re able to segue!

7.      active listeningUse your active listening skills
As appropriate, demonstrate interest by occasionally acknowledging what others are saying, summarize a speaker’s words to show your understanding, seek clarification when needed, and, ultimately, respect others by genuinely listening.


8.      Avoid multi-tasking
Multi-tasking is one of Dr. Distraction’s faithful sidekicks. Even if you feel you have nothing to do, avoid the urge to work on other things.

comfortable9.      Don’t get too comfortable
If you've properly prepared, you'll have your coffee, tea, kombucha, or Red Bull right there in front of you. Still, if you begin to feel drowsy or have difficulty concentrating, stand up for the duration of the call or meeting. Or, sit on an exercise ball—whatever it takes to stay alert.

active participant10.    Find ways to be an active participant
Volunteer to be timekeeper or note-taking scribe. If those roles are taken, ,make notes for yourself (it’ll help you focus on speakers and content).

Arming yourself with these tools will help ward off Dr. Distraction and keep you on the path of productivity.

Don't forget to download the complete infographic on How to Beat Distraction and Make the Most of Virtual Meetings. Feel free to share it with others!

Statistic sources:
West Unified Communications Services Mobile Conferencing Study Getting Virtual Teams Right

For video training on improving teamwork, engagement and personal accountability, we recommend these programs:

MANAGER MOMENTS: How to Build a High-Performing Team
Communication Counts: Speaking and Listening for Results